Isn’t Worship Conflict Really Just the Result of Conversational Narcissism?

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NarcissismConversation is interactive communication involving two or more participants.  Even though conversation is not often scripted it may revolve around a central theme or subject.  A healthy conversation includes a balance of discussion and response, listening as well as speaking.  Meaningful conversations usually occur as a result of relationships built on familiarity achieved through repetition.

God’s revelation and our response to that revelation is a great model of meaningful conversation…we call it worship.  Robert Webber’s assessment is that, “Worship proclaims, enacts, and sings God’s story.”[1]  If you agree with Webber’s understanding then you will also realize that the conversation does not begin with us.  What we do and how we do it is a response to, not the initiation of the conversation.  God started the dialogue and graciously allows and encourages us to join Him in it.

Conversational Narcissism is what sociologist Charles Derber calls the constant shifting of the conversation away from others and back to us and our personal interests.  Derber writes, “One conversationalist transforms another’s topic into one pertaining to himself through the persistent use of the shift-response.”[2]  Shift-response is taking the topic of conversation initiated by another and shifting the topic to focus on our selfish interests. 

Conversational Narcissism is manifested in worship when we take the topic (God’s story) and shift its focus to a topic of our own choosing (our story).  When the worship conversation continues to point to self instead of the story of God, we become narcissistic.  Instead of focusing on God and God’s story, our worship conversation focuses on me and my story.[3]  Shifting the topic of our worship also shifts the object of our worship.  The conversation is no longer initiated by or focused on the worshiped but on the worshiper.

Worship conflict begins when I constantly point the conversation back to me…what I need, what I prefer, what I like, what I want, what I deserve.  This worship conflict which occurs as a result of my narcissism is a great example of a one-sided, selfish, and unhealthy conversation.  I call it worship preferences…God calls it sin. 


[1] Robert E. Webber, Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), 39.

[2] Charles Derber, The Pursuit of Attention: Power and Ego in Everyday Life (Boston: G.K. Hall, 1979), 26-27.

[3] Webber, The Divine Embrace: Recovering the Passionate Spiritual Life (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 231.

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2 Responses to “Isn’t Worship Conflict Really Just the Result of Conversational Narcissism?”

  • Paul Clark Jr Says:

    Another great article challenging the most fundamental conflict of all. The “conversational narcissism” is a clear way to articulate the problem we see so often in church struggles over worship. This clash can be seen in narcissistic conversations over value systems that conflict – each side thinking their value system is above the other. Though either might be a strong value system they are not Gospel. it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. (Rom 1:16) Why is it so hard for us to apply the Gospel to our value system struggles? You are right, David, “I call it preferences….God calls is sin. Amen!

  • Patrick Smolen Says:

    An off shoot of this is the spiritual cheerleader. We try to get the crowd to react to an outward stimulus. We try to get them to acknowledge what we are doing. Rather, we must point believers toward Christ and what He has done and who He is. Then, they have the opportunity to acknowledge God our Savior. This article challenges me to say “oh me!” rather than “amen!”

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